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Diversity in the Fire Service
“Ethical problems that Women Present”

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Abstract 3

Review of Related Literature 4

Works Cited 11


I am going to write about diversity and integration in the workplace and how it creates room for new ideas as well as the possibility of increased conflict. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Fire Service, where new recruits and veteran firefighters live together, eat together and place their lives on the line for a career that prides itself on tradition. Some people may learn to tolerate differences within the normal workday, but old stereotypes, unconscious behaviors and occupational stress collide in volatile ways when living with co-workers on 24-hour shifts with member of the opposite sex.

To start out, I would like to give you what I interpret as a meaningful definition of diversity. It is generally defined as acknowledging, understanding, accepting, valuing, and celebrating differences among people with respect to age, class, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, spiritual practice, and public assistance status (Esty, et al., 1995). Managing diversity is a comprehensive process for creating a work environment that includes everyone. The world's increasing globalization requires more interaction among people from diverse cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds than ever before. People no longer live and work in an insular marketplace; they are now part of a worldwide economy with competition coming from nearly every continent. For this reason, profit and non-profit organizations need diversity to become more creative and open to change. Maximizing and capitalizing on workplace diversity has become an important issue for fire departments today. This is especially true in the fire service because when women began entering the Fire Service in significant numbers, groups began to organize for change. But change has come slowly. Some fire departments made efforts to diversify only after consent decrees from local or federal governments mandated affirmative action programs. It was hard to recruit women, because the guys didn't want them there." The practical and ethical ramifications of this very true statement are worth considering. Why would a woman want to come to work somewhere were she's not wanted? And why is it right to try to convince her to. I think managing diversity remains a significant organizational challenge; supervisors must learn the managerial skills needed in a multicultural work environment. Supervisors and managers like me must be prepared to teach themselves and others within their organizations to value multicultural differences in constituents and our customers, the people that call 911, so that everyone is treated with dignity and we avoid the ethical ramifications that could arise. Diversity is an invaluable competitive asset that America cannot afford to ignore (Robinson, 2002). Managing and valuing diversity is a key component of effective people management, which can improve workplace productivity (Black Enterprise, 2001).
Demographic changes (women in the workplace, departmental restructurings, and equal opportunity legislation) will require departments to review their management practices and develop new and creative approaches to managing people. Changes will increase work performance and customer service. Integration has also challenged the guild-like structure of the firefighting profession. Many veteran firefighters have come from families with several generations of men in the Fire Service. Recruitment, training and leadership have helped to honor and preserve lineages that favor bigger, stronger firefighters. A critical factor of successful diversity rests with integration of women that are seen as meeting the same high standards as everyone else. Women will be judged on their own merits and doing so will remove artificial assumptions that they only get higher paying jobs due to their gender. However, women have discovered alternative physical techniques that are not only effective, but also efficient and safe. I myself welcome the self-evaluation sparked by integration and applaud the improvements that I see. The issue of women in the fire service needs to be addressed further. The fact that diversity is also driven by women in the workplace is in and of itself a potential ethical issue. I say this with tongue in cheek because informal relationships that form between people in this profession can potentially either hinder or facilitate organizational functioning. Today's workforce has the highest levels of employment participation ever by women. I have seen women in the fire service who changed themselves to be one of the guys so as not to be different, just so they could survive. Organizations have long maintained an atmosphere that rejected individuals outside of the norm which has caused the minority employment pool to become subservient. I use the term minority to define women in this male dominated field of the Fire Service. I say that individuals should celebrate their differences, and that top management should pull employee groups together for common goods. I understand the number of dual income families and single working mothers has increased so change in the family structure means that there are fewer men and women in traditional family roles (Zweigenhaft and Domhoff, 1998). Therefore, diversity issues cut across both race and gender. With firefighting being a traditionally white male profession, it is not surprising that firefighters strongly resisted the introduction of women, who did not fit their image of an ideal firefighter. Fire does not care if you are male or female, but many people do, and it is my job as the supervisor to manage people much more often than I manage fires and other emergencies. Simply having policies in place that appear to be neutral, or are applied equally to everyone, this does not create equal opportunity for everyone. Altering the identity of people in a fire department can leave the door open to friction, miscommunication, and a host of other problems that can result in poor performance and a loss of teamwork. I see one example of increased personal conflict of being that many women leave the Fire Service, sometimes in the midst of successful careers, in order to avoid daily harassment, isolation and scrutiny. In what is already a high-stress profession, these added negative factors can take their toll. Many women firefighters have been promoted to the rank of lieutenant or captain, and the numbers of chiefs of departments continue to increase at an alarming rate. Many of these women are dedicated and skilled firefighters and rescue workers with lifelong dedication to their respective departments. The physical demands are the obvious reasons cited as more women are not in the fire service. At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, I think the 24-hour shifts make it difficult for some women to find child care. This however, comes from my upbringing is household that had a stay at home mom and I continued this in life today. Bottom line is that women who really want to do this profession should just plain stick with it. Another potential ethical problem that exists in the fire service because of the 24 hour shifts and close sleeping arrangements is the potential for romantic involvement. My fear is that numerous close friendships evolve from existing informal relationships in these type of work places, and for many people, these relationships are maintained within the organizational setting. Yet, despite the frequency of dual friendship/work relationships, we know very little about how they function and how the blurring of relational boundaries might affect organizational functioning, the enjoyment of work, and perhaps even performance. Managers may also be challenged with losses in personnel and work productivity due to prejudice and discrimination and complaints and legal actions against the organization (Devoe, 1999). There are several legal and ethical issues to consider. If propinquity and repeated exposure are found to be predictors of workplace romance, should an organization separate the genders? In the Fire Service this is impossible. To say the least, this may raise some serious legal issues. Also, some organizations actually require that one or both participants leave the company, which risks legal battles. Policies regarding workplace romance need to be decided with careful thought and caution, in order to respect the rights of all members of the organization. Take for example this scenario: Two people are involved in a romantic relationship and the both work for the same department. As a matter of fact they were actually working at the same station on the same shift some years ago. One of them is now a Battalion Chief and in charge of the other one. The other employees have noticed latitude given to this individual from this Battalion Chief and they are none too thrilled with idea. This obviously brings up an ethical dilemma which needs to be addressed and dealt with. The Battalion Chief needs to treat this individual as a complete equal when dealing with department issues. On the fire scene is this Battalion going to be more apprehensive in sending his loved one into a burning building? This could pose a potential risk to the other firefighters who are awaiting a back up line inside a burning building. Moral or ethical, this is absolutely unacceptable in the fire service. If there were no women in the fire service than this sort of thing would have never even come to light. I understand that one issue of conflict is that departmental, Federal and State equal opportunity legislation make discrimination in workplaces illegal. These laws specify the rights and responsibilities of both department administration and the city employers and hold both groups accountable. Let’s say that these two get a divorce and it’s a nasty one, one with extremely ill feeling toward each other. Now these two still have to work together for the next 15 years or so. Do you think that this might be an uncomfortable situation for them and the fellow Firefighters that have to work with them? Lines will be drawn. Sides will be taken. Nobody wins in these situations. Negative attitudes and behaviors can be barriers to organizational diversity because they can harm working relationships and damage morale and work productivity (Esty, et al., 1995). Negative attitudes and behaviors in the workplace include prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination, which should never be used by management for hiring, retention, and termination practices this could obviously lead to costly litigation. My suggestion for this situation is to not allow it. Either nips any employee/employee relationship in the bud or if they do develop, then one or the other has to leave the department. I have used all of these concepts at one time or another in my career and would like to respond to some of these experiences. Effective managers are aware that certain skills are necessary for creating a successful, diverse workforce. First, managers must understand discrimination and its consequences. Second, managers must recognize their own cultural biases and prejudices. Diversity is not about differences among groups, but rather about differences among individuals. Each individual is unique and does not represent or speak for a particular group. Finally, managers must be willing to change the organization if necessary. Organizations need to learn how to manage diversity in the workplace to be successful in the future. Unfortunately, there is no single recipe for success. It mainly depends on the manager's ability to understand what is best for the organization based on teamwork and the dynamics of the workplace. When creating a successful diverse, mixed gender workforce, an effective manager should focus on personal awareness. Both managers and associates need to be aware of their personal biases. In conclusion I would like to say that a diverse workforce is a reflection of a changing world and marketplace. Diverse work teams bring high value to fire departments. Respecting individual differences will benefit the workplace by creating a competitive edge and increasing work productivity. Diversity is not just a fair playing ground. It is more about how we demonstrate our treatment of each other, acceptance of each other as individuals, and how our differences actually make our organization stronger. Diversity management benefits firefighters by creating a fair and safe environment where everyone has access to opportunities and challenges. As long as we’re careful to watch for ethical pitfalls all will be right in the fire Service.

Works Cited

Black Enterprise. (2001). Managing a multicultural workforce. Black Enterprise Magazine (July).

Devoe, Deborah. (1999). Managing a diverse workforce. San Mateo, CA: InfoWorld Media Group.

Esty, Katharine, Richard Griffin, and Marcie Schorr-Hirsh (1995). Workplace diversity. A managers guide to solving problems and turning diversity into a competitive advantage. Avon, MA: Adams Media Corporation.

Robinson, Kary-Siobhan. (2002). The Society for Human Resource Management

Zweigenhaft, Richard L., and G. William Domhoff. (1998). Diversity in the power elite: have women and minorities reached the top? New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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